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Masters thumbs up for Australian Day after injury layoff

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Jason Day heads into this weeks Masters having not played competitive golf since late February due to a thumb injury but he is relieved to be back to full fitness as he seeks his first major title.

The Australian world number four had been in sparkling form earlier this year before his unexpected time on the sidelines, right after he had clinched his second PGA Tour victory at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Though he is still icing his left thumb and keeping it taped up as a precaution, his main concern going into the first of the season's four majors is whether he can regain his precision off the tee after a lengthy layoff.

"I just need to tighten up a few things, get a little sharper with my tee shots," Day told reporters at a wet Augusta National on Monday after only two hours of practice was possible due to the threat of lightning.

"I think I'll be good. I took six, seven weeks off after coming back from Australia last year and my first event of the (PGA Tour) year, which was Torrey, I finished second there.

"To me, personally, I think it's the amount of work that I put into my game before the actual week starts, so the preparation is very huge for me."

Day tied for second in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in late January before winning the biggest title of his career at the Match Play Championship in Arizona a month later.

DOCTOR'S ADVICE

Two weeks after that, he pulled out of the WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami on the advice of his doctor and focused on getting his troublesome thumb ready for the Masters.

"It's fine now," said Day, who has triumphed twice on the PGA Tour but has made a habit of playing some of his best golf in the biggest events. "I've had about six weeks off, I had a cortisone injection into it on Monday of last week.

"Had about a week off after the injection and everything's been progressing nicely. There's no pain. I'm taping it just as a precaution ... and I've been icing it a lot.

"It was more frustrating for me because just coming off the WGC win at the Match Play, I was playing some pretty good golf. It was trending in the right direction going into Doral (Miami) and the Florida Swing."

Day has been at Augusta National since last Wednesday and experienced no adverse effects while playing 36 holes at the venue over the past four days.

"To get the cortisone injection into it, to be able to swing pain-free now, is great," the 26-year-old Queenslander smiled. "The hand's coming up nicely, and I'm really looking forward to a nice, solid start (in Thursday's opening round)."

Day has produced two top-three finishes in three starts at Augusta National and has been an unabashed fan of the Masters since he first watched it on television as a child in his native Australia.

"I've been watching this golf tournament ever since I was a little kid watching Tiger Woods win around here, seeing highlights of José Maria Olazábal winning, as well," he said.

"Just the memories of watching Augusta and knowing that one day, I wanted to be the Masters champion and slip on the green jacket. I always wanted to be the first Australian to win it.

"Obviously Scotty got there first, but I'm happy to be the second. I just love everything about this place, the history and the tradition behind Augusta National and the Masters. It's golfing heaven."

Day's compatriot Adam Scott became the first Australian to win the Masters with a gripping, highly emotional playoff victory over Argentina's Angel Cabrera last year.

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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